Visiting LACMA With Kids, or Just Kids at Heart

I’ve never thought of museums as particularly kid friendly, but thanks to the Next Gen program and how close we live to the grounds, my daughter and I have become regular LACMA visitors. While I do fear the day she has a catastrophic meltdown in front of Picasso’s Head of a Woman in a Hat, she’s been calm thus far and quite capable of perusing the art without disturbing others.

After about a half-dozen trips together (stroller and diaper bag in tow), little O and I now have our favorite nooks and crannies that we visit consistently. Here are the sights we recommend for other parent/baby parties; most of them are larger in scale, making it easy to involve baby.

1. Matisse’s La Gerbe in the Ahmanson Building. Huge and colorful, this is a great piece for tiny sets of eyes to look at. I always marvel that it was originally commissioned for an LA couple’s patio, but that they didn’t like and so asked Matisse to do another. Can you imagine a) being in a position to ask Matisse for a work for your own home, then b) having the gall to return it?

2. Metropolis II in the BCAM Building. I’ve dubbed this one the “kinex on steroids sculpture,” and I find it just as mesmerizing as the toddlers do. They run around trying to keep their eyes on a certain hot wheels car or train whizzing through the city. It’s only turned every other hour Fridays through Sundays. The first cycle starts at 11:30 am, the second at 1:30, and so on.

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3. David Hockney’s Mulholland Drive: The Road to the Studio in the Art of the Americas Building. At 243 inches wide, it’s best take to take it in from afar. I love that it represents a local destination, and the kiddos seem to love the scale of the piece and the vibrant colors Hockney used. It may just inspire your little ones to create a similar finger painting on your walls at home. Be careful.

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4. Levitated Mass on the north, outer grounds (no admission ticket required). What child (or adult) isn’t somewhat captivated by a 300+ ton boulder floating on a tiny ledge 15 feet in the air? The ramp that carries pedestrians below the boulder is a part of the piece as well; together the two components comment on the history of art, from pieces created with or in nature (represented by the rock) to modern design and engineering (the ramp). Not only is it awesome to look at and walk under, there’s lots of room for wiggly young things to cruise around on their own. And, since it’s outdoors, tots can make sounds above a library whisper without getting a sideways glance from a docent or fellow museum goer.

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5. Rafael Soto’s Penetrable installation, just outside the Ahmanson Building. Soto has made many versions of this kinesthetic, abstract piece, and the neon yellow one at LACMA is on loan (though the website doesn’t state when it will leave). It’s the only piece on this list that your child can go touch and play with, making it an instant hit. One art blog calls Soto “the Raffi of Latin American Abstraction,” which makes me laugh on one hand but get all stiff and uptight on the other; just because it’s tactile doesn’t mean it’s meant to be treated like an Amazonian jungle vine, right? Oy. Hopefully it’s still standing in a few months when O can walk through the noodles on her own and play peek-a-boo.

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6. C + M Coffee Shop, outside the Ahmanson Building. OK, this stop is really for mom or dad. Part of the Patina group, this ultra mod cafe serves great coffee, 1-inch thick cookies, homemade sweet and savory pop tarts, spiked milkshakes(!), simple sandwiches, and more. After all that parental hustling I always feel I deserve a guilt-free treat. If you think like I do, you’ll appreciate C + M.

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7. The Boone Children’s Galley in the Hammer Building. This beautiful space is all about hands-on art making (once again, can’t wait ’til O is ready to join in the fun!). Make your own brush painting inspired by works from Korea and China, or listen to a read aloud (they’re scheduled every weekday at 2pm).

There you have it, our top stops. Are we missing any must-see pieces? Please do tell!

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3 L.A. Titles To Add To Your Book Shelf

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A few years back I began a new tradition: When traveling to a US city or foreign country I haven’t been to, I take along a book set in that place. I’ll start the book before I leave home, read a ton on the plane, then wrap the book up while on trains or buses throughout the vacation. The English major in me loves to make literary connections — for example, reading Murakami’s After Dark while in Tokyo gave me an interesting mental narration as I walked past izakaya’s bursting with diners in the wee hours of the night. Other books I’ve read abroad:

Sightseeing while in Thailand.

Let the Great World Spin while in New York.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running and After Dark while in Japan.

And so on.

So why not read a good book about home every so often? I started doing this as well, and I get the same sense of satisfaction — without the $$$ for a plane ticket, though.

There’s a ton of good literature set in and around Los Angeles: Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Brando Skyhorse’s The Madonnas of Echo Park, Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays, unforgettable sections of Kerouac’s On the Road. I mean, who can read this On the Road quote just once?

I could hear everything, together with the hum of my hotel neon. I never felt sadder in my life. LA is the loneliest and most brutal of American cities; New York gets godawful cold in the winter but there’s a feeling of wacky comradeship somewhere in some streets. LA is a jungle.

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